121021-Theme-608x456Have you ever noticed how small things your partner does can aggravate the hell out of you? These quirks, habits, or idiosyncrasies become like tiny cinders in your eye that drive you crazy. Then one day, out of the blue, your partner comes home from a routine doctor’s visit and announces, “I have cancer”.

And from that moment on, your life has changed. All of the small stuff becomes insignificant as you bond with your partner to deal with the next series of challenges which you both shall face.

I have spoken to many people – family, friends, patients – who have indicated that when they had to deal with a potentially life threatening disease, illness, accident, or other tragic life event, they experienced a resurgence of, or in some cases, an even greater level if intimacy with their partner. It was as if all of those behavioral or personality quirks faded and/or disappeared from the playing field and created a space for the intimacy to flourish.

Couples fight about all sorts of things, e.g., issues related to finance, communication, hygiene, picking teeth, farting, clutter, chores, and not enough sex, to name put a few. Any one of these issues can stimulate people to create distance and even lead folks to question the viability of the relationship. But when tragedy strikes, none of these issues, seem to matter. Issues that yesterday were driving them crazy, today seem irrelevant. It is at these times that the couples recognize what is truly important to them and what issues are distractions from the intimacy that was buried beneath the chatter.

So the question is, how can couples maintain this perspective even when there is no tragedy? Or never was a tragedy?  Why do we allow these relative small quirks, habits, and idiosyncrasies degrade the intimacy between two people who once were deeply in love and how can we prevent it from happening? Why do we have to wait for a crisis before we recognize that the small things don’t matter?

It seems to me that it is a matter of perspective.  We are able to choose where to focus our attention. We can choose to focus on minutia or focus on the big bigger picture. The degree to which each person is comfortable with intimacy and his or her own dependency or attachment needs contributes greatly to where one chooses to focus attention. For example, a person who is fearful of being too intimate and is uncomfortable with acknowledging his or her attachment to another person, is more prone to notice and focus on the small things that are irritating; it helps to maintain distance. Similarly, someone who is more accepting of their attachment needs and with intimacy in general, will be more focused on the whole person and will be more tolerant of the small, daily irritants and tend to overlook them.

When a crisis occurs, the magnitude of the crisis becomes so compelling that the individual quirks that were so irritating the day before, now become insignificant. This “crisis perspective” which allows even the most intimacy adverse individuals to refocus their attention, can be maintained even in the absence of a crisis to the extent that one accepts their own attachment issues and their emotional dependence on another person.

When we ask the question, “how would I feel if this person were not in my life?” we often find that we would feel a lot worse than the degree to which their quirks are irritating. Since life is indeed both short and filled with uncertainty, if we choose to focus more on how much that person means to us and what they add to our life, we would find that those small irritants become incidental and even tolerable: it is all a matter of perspective.

*****

[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a fan on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]